Arkansas and the HVDC Power Line

Plains and Eastern Clean Line has proposed and are planning the construction of a 700 mile High Voltage Direct Current Power line stretching from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Memphis. The 600 kilovolt line will have the capacity to move 3.5 GigaWatts of power, equivalent to the output of 5 or 6 coal fired power plants. This represents a major move to deliver excess clean, wind-generated electricity out of the midwest to markets to the east.

wind turbine blade

wind turbine blade

Similar projects are in progress to our north, the Grain Belt Express Line will be passing through Missouri on the way to St. Louis and points east and the Rock Island Clean Line which will pass through Iowa and tie into several eastern states.

These projects are not so much about the here and now, but rather the there and then. Multimillion dollar projects take long lead times between inception and completion, usually several years, so they have to be planned with the future needs in mind. The recent requirement by the EPA to reduce our nations carbon emissions only hastens our need for clean renewable electrical energy to replace obsolescent coal fired power plants.

The lines have both supporters and detractors. Environmental groups usually favor the projects as a way to reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce the risk of the damaging effects of global warming. On the other side are land owners who see the power lines marching across their land as more big government intrusion into their lifestyles and even interfering with their livelihoods. Additional arguments against construction of the lines are possible health effects, and the fact that the entities proposing the construction are private companies.

It seems strange that an argument against private industry would be made. The United States to a very large degree operates that way, it’s capitalism, right? Rights of way (ROW) must be secured for these power line projects private or otherwise, just as any project in the public interest such as water lines or a railway. Fair market price must be paid for any property taken for the ROW.

Because these are direct current lines they have a relatively small footprint, at most about 200 feet wide.



The total area utilized by the Plains and Eastern Clean Line is about 8000 acres spread over the total roughly 300 miles in Arkansas. The actual land area taken out of service is much less than that as grazing land and hay fields are essentially undisturbed even within the ROW.

Health effects of the power lines relate to several phenomena – Induced magnetic fields, possible corona discharge, and ion production. There is no convincing evidence based on years of experience with power lines that any of the aforementioned causes have health effects.

The magnetic field induced by the proposed line is about the same as the earth’s magnetic field. A few meters from the edge of the right of way won’t even deflect a compass. Power transmission line operators design equipment to avoid corona discharge as it wastes power. With respect to the ions generated, if you worry about power lines, stay away from beaches and waterfalls as they produce even greater numbers of ions.

In the interest in full disclosure I am a member of the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club which has endorsed the proposed power line.

4 thoughts on “Arkansas and the HVDC Power Line

  1. Lisa Arnold

    Is a published map of the proposed path across northern Arkansas available? When will easements acquesition begin?

  2. David Orr

    As an enviro myself I would have a strong objection to these lines, for reasons you didn’t mention. The utilities that run power lines generally use large amounts of herbicides to keep their row’s clear of larger plants and trees. I don’t know of a single utility, except perhaps in a few locations in northern California and Oregon, that doesn’t use round-up or other pesticides. Another concern you didn’t mention is the issue of industrial scale wind power generation which is known to have serious impacts on wildlife and endangered species in many areas. Finally, I don’t know where the right of ways are. They usually go on straight line routes which can be very disruptive to local ecosystem functions. It would be one thing if the line followed the I-40 row but it’s when these lines go cross country, over sensitive land, streams, wildlife corridors, and wetlands that the impacts of power lines becomes a big deal.

    It seems like you are taking an end justifies the means approach to analyzing this project. If it means no coal then it’s almost by definition a good thing. Opposition to fossil fuels is a good thing but we need to be careful about what we wish for. The Sierra Club correctly fought large scale solar projects in the Mojave Desert because the impacts were far too great to offset any gains from the fact that power would come from a source other than traditional large scale projects, whether fossil, nuclear or hydro. In none of these projects I’m aware of is there a requirement that fossil plants be shut down as a condition of approving the new ones. Maybe that’s not the case in this instance? If we don’t retire the old plants we’re not taking any carbon out of the air, we’re just adding more capacity which arguably has no effect on the total amount of carbon emissions.

    I wish the Sierra Club would not endorse these projects because the Arkansas Chapter doesn’t have the expertise to evaluate the impacts from a life-cycle perspective. The Club and other groups that are focused on weaning our society off fossil fuels are sometimes blind to the downside of so-called clean energy.

    The utilities don’t need endorsement from groups like ours to build their projects. We need to stand back, in my view, and see what these large scale projects actually do. They may turn out to be good bets but if they have a lot of problems then our credibility is shot.


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